Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett said that “words matter” and that he is “moving towards a 21st-century policing mindset in which we treat everyone within our community with dignity, respect, and humanity” as he announced on Monday that the Dane County Sheriff’s Office will no longer use the word “inmate” when referring to incarcerated folks.
“Throughout my 97 days as Dane County Sheriff, I’ve had the opportunity to get multiple and different perspectives from our staff, our deputies, our community members and our community leaders and also those who are currently incarcerated and those who have been recently released from incarceration,” Barrett said at a press conference. “Through these community engagements and connections, I’ve learned a new perspective and that perspective is that we we will no longer refer to those in our care at the Dane County Jail as ‘inmates’ but will use more humanizing terms like ‘resident’ or ‘those within our care.’”
This change in language is a way to humanize those in the Dane County Jail, Barrett added, and eliminate some of the barriers they face as they re-enter society.
Sheriff Barrett said he recently attended a group called “Man-Up” hosted by Nehemiah, a Madison community-based organization who help to prepare individuals for life after incarceration.
“I was able to have numerous conversations with those who have been incarcerated in our state, county, and federal prisons. In that, they encouraged me to no longer use the term ‘inmate,’ but instead use ‘resident,’” Barrett said. “They explained the negative connotations and the stigma that comes with the terms inmate, convict, offender and prisoner.
“This shift in language will continue to help us reform our criminal justice system and treat those who are within our care with dignity, respect, and humanity,” he added. “This proactive approach will allow us to move towards a 21st century policing mindset in which we treat everyone within our community with dignity, respect, and humanity.”
Barrett said that as sheriff, he believes “our philosophies, policies and practices should be proactive and not reactionary like many other areas of our criminal justice system.”
“Our progressive approach to reducing recidivism will take time to become normal for our Sheriff’s Office, residents and community members,” he said. “I know with internal motivation, buy-in and habitual practice we will set the standard for humane language in the State of Wisconsin.”
Barrett was joined by Dane County Board Chair Analiese Eicher, Dane County Supervisor Maureen McCarville, and State Rep. Shelia Stubbs, who also serves as a Dane County Supervisor.
“I think it is critical that we recognize people as decent people and as citizens and to call them ‘residents’ instead of ‘inmates’ is a step forward. I know that Sheriff Barrett is the right sheriff to keep moving us forward,” Stubbs said. “The state of Wisconsin has the worst racial disparities. It is critical that at every entry point that we have — local level, state level, federal level – that we begin to look at these disparities and move them backward.
“Changing the name from inmate to resident gives people a sense of belonging,” she added.